ATD Blog

Are Managers Wasting Their Time on Employee Development?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A lot has been written about how the work environment has fundamentally changed during the past few years. However, the implications for the average employee cannot be overstated. High-change environments have rendered established work processes less relevant and created more uncertainty for employees. At the same time, work is becoming more matrixed, with employees sharing formal responsibilities, authority, and accountability for a larger number of work outcomes.

A fundamental shift in learning needs

Employees no longer simply need to learn how to do their job as it has always been done. Their day-to-day work reality has changed their formal and informal learning needs in three key ways:

  1. Expanded networks—employees have more opportunities to work together and a greater need to learn from colleagues than ever before.
  2. More information—with the availability of more data, employees require quick access to support and guidance to help them navigate and prioritize how to use that information.
  3. Co-created solutions—employees must collaborate with others to find solutions to novel challenges.

Traditional coaching isn’t enough

As the complexity of learning needs increases, many learning and development (L&D) professionals find themselves struggling to support employees appropriately. To improve on this, many organizations focus on refining the coaching that managers provide their teams. CEB research shows that managers play a critical role in supporting employee development: Individuals reporting to managers who are effective at leading employee development perform up to 25 percent better than their peers, are 29 percent more committed, and are up to 40 percent more likely to stay at the organization.


However, traditional manager-driven coaching is insufficient in today's work environment for several reasons. First, while employees spend a significant portion of their time working with their managers, more of their time is spent working alongside peers. Second, our research shows that managers are now responsible for 12 direct reports on average. With the responsibility of managing more people, managers have less time to spend developing individuals. Additionally, managers do not always have relevant experience in the areas in which their direct reports need assistance.

Redefining coaching in the new work environment


Because of all of these shifts, the individual contributor who executes his work with the oversight of a manager or team leader is fast becoming a role of the past. Widening employee networks create many opportunities for employees to learn from each other, yet most organizations continue to envision coaching as a one-way relationship between a manager and direct report.

The best L&D functions mirror work environment realities in their coaching strategies. These organizations think of coaching as a network—not just managerial—activity. They focus on leveraging the connections that employees are making in their day-to-day work and use them as coaching opportunities. Beyond the manager, they incorporate two other critical connections for employees: their direct reports and their peer group. The sum of these connection points forms the networked coaching model.

Broadening the view of coaching to include peers and direct reports allows for in-the-moment coaching that better serves employees’ increasingly time-sensitive and diverse learning needs.

Check back next week for the second article in this blog series, in which we’ll examine the first of the three critical coaching connections—Managers as Network Curators. Also, learn more about how leading L&D teams enables greater returns on employee development at

About the Author

As Talent Solutions Architect at CEB, Jean Martin directs the development of talent management solutions and insights across the company with heads of human resources at some of the largest global organizations. Specifically, Jean spends time working on issues relating to driving breakthrough organizational performance, and assessing, engaging and retaining the best employees.

About the Author

Thomas Handcock, is senior director at CEB. A researcher at heart, and passionate about learning, Handcock is focused on working with CEB’s global network of clients to unlock the potential of their employees and leaders. His research on areas like on-the-job learning, coaching, training design, L&D strategy, and staff capability, and the hundreds of discussions he has each year with L&D executives and their teams, have only served to reinforce his belief that human capital development is one of the most powerful levers the modern enterprise has at its disposal.

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